The grass might be getting a little greener in Tennessee. Sen. Frank Niceley, republican member of the Tennessee Senate, presented Monday night on newly legalized industrial hemp growth in Tennessee in a lecture sponsored by the Young Americans for Liberty. Farmers and students alike attended Niceley’s discussion to hear an overview of the legislation he pushed last year, which has now become Tennessee law. As the lecture began, it quickly began an open forum, with Niceley responding to questions from the audience.
The senator explained the hemp plant was legal even before his bill was signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam. It was illegal to grow the plant, however, due to a stigma that associates it with marijuana. Although the plant has the same appearance as marijuana, it has a THC level of less than 1 percent. “Pot and hemp are cousins,” Niceley said. “Corn bread and corn liquor are cousins. Everybody’s got a cousin they aren’t proud of.”
Hemp has more than 25,000 uses, such as being utilized to make inexpensive paper or strong rope according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. This new law will allow Tennessee farmers to participate in an estimated $500 million market with hemp. Kenneth Collins, president of Young Americans for Liberty and junior in political science, said the new market that hemp provides will improve Tennessee’s economy.
“It’s going to be an experiment at first, but I think it will bring jobs here to Tennessee,” Collins said. Niceley mentioned in his presentation that hemp isn’t subsidized, so the state has little to no influence on third-party measures that aim to halt hemp production. The bill does state, however, that the Department of Agriculture “shall issue licenses to persons.” Although an administrative fee could be attached to these licenses, leaving some farmers without solid means to start hemp production, Niceley said the word “shall” carries massive power and bypasses bureaucratic foot-dragging that could prevent the process of growing hemp in Tennessee. “We’ve come a long way,” he said in the discussion. “It’s legal to grow now.”
Colorado is currently the only other state in the U.S. to have issued licenses to grow hemp. When Niceley proposed the bill in January, it passed in the Senate by a margin of 28-0 and in the House 88-5. Sen. Niceley attributed this majority vote to the effectiveness of Tennessee Legislature, stating that it listens to the people. Collins, however, expressed surprise at the Tennessee government’s unwillingness to pass the bill. “Who would ever think that Tennessee would have industrial hemp legislation?” Collins asked. The Young Americans for Liberty meet at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays in Room 56 of the Humanities and Social Sciences Building. For more information, visit.
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